Nonviolence Lessons from the Mideast
By Kate Gould on 09/07/2011 @ 12:40 PM
My new role as a Middle East peace lobbyist for FCNL is my dream job—but before I was introduced to FCNL as a freshman in college, I would never have guessed that this congressional advocacy on U.S. policy towards the Middle East would be my life’s work.
Like many in the United States, I grew up with the impression that the Middle East was a cauldron of senseless and seemingly endless violence.
It wasn’t until I began my work as a program assistant for FCNL that I learned that despite brutal wars and military occupations, the Middle East is also a cauldron of nonviolent uprisings for self-determination. From Tunis to Cairo to Daraa to Manama, this has become all the more true since the Arab Spring convulsed the region and shook the foundations of authoritarian rule.
Syria Revolutionaries Opt for Nonviolence
It’s both inspiring and sobering to work on Middle East issues as the unarmed protest movement in Syria continues its struggle despite the Syrian regimes’ atrocities.
While the same pundits in Washington that brought you the Iraq War are now clamoring for the United States to invade Syria, the protest movement in Syria has overwhelmingly opposed to foreign military intervention from the beginning. However, the Washington Post reports that in the last few weeks, some Syrian rebels have called for Syrians to take up arms and ask the United States and NATO to intervene militarily on their behalf.
In response to such calls, the Syrian Local Coordinating Committees (LCC), the umbrella grassroots network of young opposition activists in Syria, has issued a powerful statement against international military intervention and armed revolt. The Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) statement brilliantly makes the case for nonviolence as the only effective and moral path to achieve not only “the overthrow of the regime”, but also the end goal of “freedom for Syria and all Syrians”.
As the LCC points out:
“The method by which the regime is overthrown is an indication of what Syria will be like post-regime. If we maintain our peaceful demonstrations, which include our cities, towns, and villages; and our men, women, and children, the possibility of democracy in our country is much greater. If an armed confrontation or international military intervention becomes a reality, it will be virtually impossible to establish a legitimate foundation for a proud future Syria.”
The LCC statement highlights how Syrians have drawn inspiration from the inclusive nature of popular nonviolent protest from the Palestinian example. The LCC notes that Palestinians gained world sympathy during the first unarmed intifada, or uprising, but that “the second Intifada, which was militarized, lost public sympathy and participation”.
Punishing Palestinian Nonviolence
The Palestinian political leadership is again preparing to make their case for independence to the world—this time not only in street demonstrations, but also at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly meeting, in a bid for U.N. membership.
Rather than welcoming the Palestinians’ U.N. effort for its commitment to nonviolence and a negotiated two-state solution, the Obama administration has vowed to take “punitive measures” against the Palestinian Authority if it seeks to upgrade its position at the United Nations.
A Defining Moment for Syrians, Palestinians & The United States
Meanwhile in Congress, anti-U.N., anti-Palestinian legislation is quickly gaining steam. Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (FL) introduced a U.N. “reform” bill that would eliminate funding for Palestinian refugees and would withhold U.S. funding to any U.N. entity that upgrades the status of the Palestinian mission to state status.
As the Syrian Local Coordinating Committees pointed out, a protest movement is largely defined by the means it uses to protest. From this simple principle that speaks to the very essence of nonviolence, it would follow that all of us are defined by whether we express our disagreements with others through punitive, retaliatory measures or by welcoming nonviolent actions as opportunities for greater dialogue.
A growing number of elites in the Israeli security establishment are opting for adopting the latter approach, calling on Israel to offer Palestinians a reasonable statehood plan in response to the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership.
Rather than punish Palestinians and the United Nations as a whole, the Obama administration should welcome the Palestinians’ nonviolent efforts and use this moment to press for real progress on a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.